Episode 13: Dr. Chettiar & Elliott
“Have you ever thought about, maybe there is a grand design?” Elliott asked.
Arya responded, nonverbally, using an inquisitive expression, as if to say, ‘I hear you and I find your question very interesting. Tell me more.’ Elliott accepted the invitation.
“I don’t believe in God. At least, not the superficial, good versus evil kind of up there in the clouds judging concept. Not talking about that. What I mean is, could it be more complex than what we see? Like more layers, and an order to things that is driven by some sort of purpose. Everything, from a tiny piece of dust to a giant mountain and all the in between, fitting together in an actual way that has meaning. Like a puzzle. Maybe, probably, there wasn’t some intelligent design to begin with. Big Bang Theory and all that. But maybe out of the chaos, and over many years, when systems were in place and working together, maybe it’s all working together on a much deeper level, like deeper than we can comprehend.”
Elliott shifted to the edge of the couch with elbows on knees. He wore a tight fitting sweater with fibers stretching as he leaned into the explanation, faded jeans and vintage Doc Martens. Fingers immediately went to the closely trimmed and graying beard as a compulsive act that he did during times of contemplation or in the search for the next action or words.
Arya had already been considering whether or not to divulge more to Elliott before the session ever began, back at the new house that seemed enormous compared to the city apartment. The kids explored every corner on every floor. The husband unpacked and organized. She sat in the room overlooking the backyard that would be her office and thought about Elliott, and the condition.
“Maybe I am just a puzzle piece that was put in the wrong place. Ever do a puzzle and you have a piece that seems to fit, and you’re just frustrated at the whole exercise and try to shove it into that spot? Maybe I am that piece. I don’t quite fit, supposed to fit somewhere else, and got shoved into place.”
Arya’s gaze melted into empathy. She could see deep into the sadness and vulnerability of Elliott’s eyes. He was like a wounded bird flopping about on the sidewalk, desperate to gain composure and terrified that it may not be able to. She hated the suffering and was never good at processing the pain merely in the clinical. The wounded bird description was so cliché, but there wasn’t a better way to describe her patients. They were all wounded birds and most of the time all she could do was offer comfort in a shoe box, their wings were too broken. That was part of the reason she was so broken.
Arya could tell Elliott needed her to respond. ‘And say what?’ she thought. ‘That everything was more complex? That his very strange affliction was not an isolated situation and that she was beginning to question how that could be so?’ Not to mention it being statistically improbable that he would take a job at the very same institution she did. Remarkable coincidence? Synchronicity?
Her opportunity to be the one to gradually and compassionately inform her patient that he was not the only patient with a nearly identical pathology down to the significance of a specific year in time, was superseded by Elliott’s own recent discovery.
Elliott’s eyes narrowed. The air of vulnerability, for the first time during their sessions, seemed to get choked out by a sudden distrust.
“Or maybe it’s not so unknown. Maybe some people know some things that others don’t.”
Arya was caught off guard. Sudden shifts in emotion or tone during a session were not rare. After all, the point of a session is to get to the deeper issues, the underlying causes that contribute to the various afflictions she treated. Arya was trained to deal with the unpredictable. Elliott’s change in tone was not what made her feel vulnerable, rather what was said.
“What’s known, Elliott?”
“You tell me, Dr. Chettiar. Are there others like me?”
Arya shifted in her chair to a more closed position, then caught herself and shifted back and closed her notes.
“We both agreed early on, Elliott, that we wouldn’t come to any conclusions. You wanted me to keep an open mind. I shared with you some diagnoses that I felt could be applicable when you are ready to explore them.”
“I am not talking about your diagnosis. I am not talking about similar experiences. I am asking if you know that there are others like me, exactly like me. Exactly the same experiences.”
Arya honed in on the very specific words Elliott chose to ask the question. He wasn’t asking if there were others like him. Elliott wanted to know whether or not she knew, what he knew, that there were others.
“Why didn’t you tell me?”
“Because at this stage in our sessions, I didn’t believe it would have been productive for you. Pathologies can be strikingly similar, and it is easy to turn coincidence into a correlation when there probably isn’t any. That is not healthy.”
“I agree, Elliott. There is a lot here to accept as nothing but coincidence. Trust I have been looking into it. I have been looking into it a lot. I was prepared to tell you when I believed the time was right, and I promise you if I knew more, especially something that could help you, I would tell you.”
“There is something happening. Not in my head. Something very real.”
Arya leaned into the space Elliott was leaning into, and now only inches separated them. She wanted as little space as possible between them so that Elliott could feel that she had nothing to hide.
“How do you know, Elliott?
He stared back at her, silent.
“There is a paper that was published that talks about it. Did you see that? I could get you a copy.”
Elliott didn’t take his eyes away. He was tight lipped and motionless, elbows on his knees, leaning into the shared space. Arya took a pause, hoping the mutual silence would trigger Elliott’s tell, and she would know that he was closer to disclosing. She breathed deeply, provided a warm expression, and waited it out for a few brief minutes that she was certain felt longer to her patient.
Unconsciously, Elliott brought his hand to his face and scratched the thin beard. The tell.
“The condition, I mean the experience is rare, Elliott. But maybe you read a post on social media from someone with the same experience?”
“Not exactly,” Elliott replied.
“What did you find, Elliott?”